How Many Years Did You Train With Your Teacher? And How Often?


In Chinese martial art, the first thing we ask is 'who is your teacher?' The second question is 'how many year did you train with him?'

For me, it took 15 years before I was given a permission to teach in NYC, and then it took another 13 years before I was accepted as my teacher's second disciple. My older disciple brother, John Conroy, started training with my teacher in 1972, and became my teacher's first disciple in 1999. When combined, these are many years of dedicated, hard training in which we had to earn our teacher's trust.

We, as Classical Yang Family Tai Chi Chuan practitioners, take pride in having put those many years with one teacher, week after week, year after year, experiencing the pain of progress and the joy of discoveries. There were days when I (and I know John did too) did Tai Chi Chuan [form] over 20 times a day, and trained 10 or more hours a day. In the end, it was all worth it because I have something that others do not have, 'the understanding'. The result of my time, energy, and effort of extreme training was this reward. I did not visit my teacher a few days at a time, once a year, for a few years (few = less than 3 years). Consistently, as a private student, I trained with my teacher 3 days a week, for years. So did John.

We did not have to fly across Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, or any continent to see our teacher, once a year. We were always there, where our teacher lived. I stay as late as possible, the last person to leave the club, to give my teacher ride home after training. We didn't have to deal with the jetlag. There was no need to have elaborate dinners to please the teacher on an annual visit. A cup of coffee and a french cruller will do just fine; may be, now and then, a cannoli. I didn't have to cram my lessons, and my teacher took his time teaching me the finer aspects of Tai Chi Chuan. I had time to train and absorb what he taught me slowly. There is no need to rush; I wasn't limited by a number of days in a foreign land. But, those who had to travel to a foreign land to train were limited by a distance to travel, a duration of visit, possibly a lack of communication, and an urgency to cram. In a rush, one becomes sloppy. In the end, what one has is a meaningless shell with no substance. No understanding, only the hype.

A truly dedicated Classical Yang Family Tai Chi Chuan practitioner would do his best to avoid such training circumstances. How much can one possibly learn on once a year visit? What would be the depth of understanding? How can any truly dedicated practitioner underestimate the profound aspects of Tai Chi Chuan [system], thinking that an understanding can be achieved by this one visit a year, for a few days? It's virtually impossible for most people! For my students in Zurich and Corea, I made it very clear that once a year workshop is a waste time for all of us. For any serious training that would resemble the training of my private students in NYC, an individual practitioner has to visit a mimum of 4 times a year. Possibly a high price to pay, but does one have a choice? A choice would be to move near your teacher. So, either move near or travel often to receive the transmission. However, I highly doubt that this particular person who travelled abroad to train was there no more than once a year. Then, what can he possibly learn? No much.

To understand Tai Chi Chuan [system], one has to incoporate correctly the forms, 'dynamic' power push hand, chi gong, and solo drill exercises, and under the constant supervision of a knowledgeable and skillful teacher. If not careful, one's training can easily sidetrack. Thus, for this very reason, a student of Classical Yang Family Tai Chi Chuan would want constant corrections of the forms, interactions of power training of 'dynamic' push hand, perseverance of chi gong sets, countless hours of the solo drill exercises, and teacher's supervision. These are of the utmost essences to the understanding of Tai Chi Chuan [system].

Underneath the hype, any knowledgeable and skillful practitioner can perceive the distorted understanding and the propagation of this distortion. There is no true understanding of an internal martial art. The essence of Tai Chi Chuan is utterly absent. What's present is mere explanations of superficial body mechanics and muscular efforts. There is no understanding of the strengthening of body, energy and mind (intent), and how these aspects combine to supercede onto the higher aspects of more profound energy. There is no understanding of the physical interpretations of Yin/Yang, Pa Qua, Six Harmonies, Five Elements, etc. There is no understanding of 'Nine Pearls', 'Five Bows', 'Complete Jing Connection', 'Stillness In Motion', etc. There is no understanding of the usage of the wall for body conditioning, the 'Dan Tian' conditioning, 'Dragon Claws' and hand conditioning, etc. What is there is some hype of a fanciful name of a style that lures the unsuspected.

Obviously, years of trainng would have provided some of those listed trainings. But, how can anyone receive such transmission of knowledge and skill in a such short time? How can this individual, then, claim what he is teaching is remotely close to the authentic Classical Yang Family Tai Chi Chuan?

Then, there is the issue of 'trust'. It takes years to establish the trust between a teacher and a student. Many students have known to betray their teacher after many years, for one reason or other. How does the teacher and the student establish the 'trust'? It is done through years of observing the student's work ethics, respectibility, and loyalty. Time is the key that would tell. If a teacher has not spent the time observing an individual student, how would the former know the latter is capable and worthy?

In the course of years, there is, of course, now and then, an exceptional genius. Show him one thing, and he figures out ten things. Because of his solid foundation, the distance matters very little to him, neither is the frequency of the visits. But then, how do we recognize this genius? It manifests in the genius' achievement of the understanding of the system. He understands all aspects of internal art. He manages to surpass his fellow classmates in understanding of Tai Chi Chuan [system]. He smiles as other classmates quizzcally wonder how he managed to achieve it.

How many years did you say you've trained with your teacher? And, how often?


by H. Won Gim
May 4, 2011 -- H. Won Tai Chi Chuan Association